Boxing can be a funny sport at times. Earlier this year Japanese Light Welterweight champion Hiroki Okada was preparing for the third defense of his national title, those preparations however ended early when he damaged his hand on the shaven skull of sparring partner, and stablemate, Yoshitaka Kato.
The injury to Okada has proven to be a relatively serious one and rather than await his return to fitness the JBC have allowed the man he was preparing to fight Masayoshi Kotake (9-9-2, 5) to fight for the interim title. Kotake however will not be handed the interim title, or matched easily for it, instead he will be facing the once beaten Masanobu Nakazawa (17-1-1, 7) for the belt.
On paper Kotake looks like a poor contender. He has won just 45% of all his bouts and is certainly not a star in the making. It is notable however that he has mixed with some very good competition such as Okada, Shinya Iwabuchi, Akihiro Kondo and Jimrex Jaca. Sadly whilst his competition has been good it doesn't defend his form, which includes just 1 win in his last 5 bouts.
Although clearly not the best fighter Kotake does have some things going his way. He's tough, and has never been stopped, he has a real grittiness to his fighting and he does hit harder than his record suggests. On paper he has a 25% KO rate but all of his wins since 2011 have come by stoppage, those wins have coincided with him being scheduled for more than 6 rounds.
Another thing to note about Kotake is that he's a 28 year old Southpaw. So he's younger than his 33 year old foe, and has that tricky advantage of being a southpaw.
With an impressive looking record fans will typically favour Nakazawa. He's not been beaten since his 5th professional bout and is actually on an impressive 14-0 run dating back more than 4 years. Unfortunately however his competition has been weak to say the least with his best wins coming against the likes of Tetsuya Hasunuma, who holds a win over Kotake, and Kazuya Soma.
The one name fans will recognise form Nakazawa's record is Shuhei Tsuchiya, a man who actually stopped Nakazawa in the 2nd round of their meeting back in November 2010. It was a Rookie of the Year bout but one that does stand out as being Nakazawa's only notable contest so far. Whilst it may be unfair to use that bout to point out flaws it needs to be said the he didn't seem happy at his corner throwing in the towel after he easily beat the 10 count.
Footage of both is fairly limited but, on the whole, Nakazawa look a better boxer. The test however is going to be whether or not he can fight for 10 rounds against a tough southpaw with under-rated power. In many ways Nakazawa, although the better man on paper, is stepping up significantly and given his age he may know that this really is a must win bout. For Kotake a loss will likely be the end of his title hopes, though we suspect he'll come into the ring full of confidence and may well look to apply the pressure from the off.
We favour Nakazawa but wouldn't back him too strongly given that this really is his first test since the Tsuchiya bout almost 5 years ago.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Lightweight division is currently regarded as one of the weakest division's in the sport with some people wondering where the next divisional star is hiding. Whilst we certainly don't know the answer to that we do have to mentioned that OPBF champion Masayoshi Nakatani (10-0, 5) does appear to be a genuine contender in the making. He's looking to continue his rise at the end of August as he seeks the 4th defense of his title and a continuation of his development. In the opposite corner will be the little known Kazuya Murata (11-4, 5), who will be seeking the biggest win of his career, so far.
In the ring the champion is a lanky, rangy boxer-puncher who showed real power early in his career, stopping 5 of his first 6 foes, but has since shown more boxing ability taking 4 straight wins, including his title win over Yoshitaka Kato and all 3 of his title defenses. Whilst that sounds like his power hasn't carried up he has been matched with some solid opposition, including the aforementioned Kato, the experienced Ricky Sismundo and the tough Futoshi Usami.
As a puncher Nakatani looked really exciting. His dominant display in July 2013 against Shuhei Tsuchiya appeared to be the break out win of a true future contender. Since then however he has reverted to being an outside fighter, boxing and moving. Whilst he has become “less” exciting he has shown genuinely good skills and scarcely dropped more than a round in hist last 3 bouts due to his movement, engine and skillset.
At 26 years old Nakatani is still a work in progress though having trained with the likes of Sho Ishida, Ryo Miyazaki and Kazuto Ioka he has developed very quickly and appears to be a fighter who will compete at world level in the next 18-24 months.
As for Murata little is really available in terms of the challenger though the little bit of footage we have managed to track down made him look like a defensively tight and aggressively minded fighter who will come forward with a busy jab. Although he looks aggressively minded the general view from watching him is that not the busiest fighter. Also, unfortunately, he looks very predictable with a pressure fighters mentality but not quite the ability of real pressure fighter.
Whilst footage of Murata is hard to find there is some details that are available. Firstly at 27 he's in his prime physically and at 5'9” he's a relatively taller fighter for the division however he will be dwarfed in the ring by Nakatanai who will try and keep Murata at range. Also with just 5 (T)KO's in 15 fights it's clear he's not a puncher.
What we also know about the challenger is that he's in the form of his live with 6 straight wins, dating back well over 2 years. That's the longest winning streak of his career by some margin, and includes a win over recent Nakatani foe Futoshi Usami. That is, by far, the best win on his record. Unfortunately that was a struggle whilst Nakatani easily dominated Usami who really struggled to claim more than a round or two against the champion.
Having seen what we have of the two men involved in this one we can only see one result, a wide, and easy, decision win for Nakatani who should be too good, too skilled, too fast and too long for the challenger. Murata could cause some issue due to his physical strength but it's hard to see him really questioning the very talented Ioka gym fighter.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The final Japanese title fight for August comes on August 20th as the domestic Featherweight title goes up for grabs between a heavy handed champion and a fairly obscure challenger.
The defending champion is the heavy handed, former world title challenger, Satoshi Hosono (27-2-1, 20). The Ohashi gym product is a genuinely fearsome puncher with a grit to him and although he's not the quickest or the most flashy he is a man who nobody wants to stand and trade with. In fact doing such would show bravery bordering on the ridiculous.
Aged 31 the champion is probably coming to the end of his prime though he has actually had an excellent career which has seen him become a 2-time Japanese champions, an OPBF champion and a 3-time world title challenger. Unfortunately however he's best know for coming up short with losses to Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym and Celestino Caballero as well as a technical draw with Chris John.
Known as the “Bazooka” Hosono tends to live up to to his nickname and has an impressive 67% T/KO rate. His recent form has actually improved that rate with 3 of his last 4 bouts ending with a TKO win and 5 of his last 7 also ending early. He'll be looking to prove his name right again here as he looks to record his third straight defense of the title.
In the opposite corner is little known challenger Tatsuya Otsubo (8-6-1, 3). On paper Otsubo looks like a monstrous under-dog, especially given his record. The truth however is that his record isn't as poor as it looks. He actually started his career with a real struggle and was once 1-5-1 (1). Since then he has really turned his career around and has recently strung together 6 successive wins, including a very notable upset win over domestic contender Akihiko Katagiri.
At 25 years old it's little wonder that Otsubo is going from strength to strength with his career.. He's no longer the inexperienced teenager who picker up loss after loss. Instead he's a man who is full of confidence, a developing self belief and some real form.
Sadly when it comes to getting a read on the challenger the challenger things are rather difficult with very little footage being available. What we have seen of him suggests he's a gutsy, in the pocket warrior. Not the most skilled but tough and committed to out fighting his foes with a swarming attack.
To beat Hosono you tend to need to avoid a war. Sadly from the footage that's available of Otsubo it's looking very unlikely that he'll be able to do that when the two men step in the ring together. Instead it looks like Otsubo will play in to the hands of Hosono who may well feel he could get himself another world title fight at some point in 2016.
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At the OPBF level we get a lot of really interesting match ups. They may not have the big names or the pizazz of a world title fight but, at least on paper, they often appear to be really matched and very competitive looking contests.
We get one such bout on August 10th when the once beaten Masayuki Ito (16-1-1, 7) battles against the under-rated Dai Iwai (17-3-1, 6) in a bout for the OPBF Super Featherweight title. Coming in to the bout neither fighter is really recognised by an international fan base yet both have serious ability, both are young and both will be looking to claim the title and really kick on with their career.
Aged 24 Ito is the younger man and although less experienced many consider him to have, by far, the more upside. That's despite losing last time out to Japanese champion Rikki Naito in a very hotly contested national title fight.
Like many Japanese fighters Ito began his professional career with out a big amateur background though his talent was evident early on and in 2012 he became the All Japan Featherweight Rookie of the Year. Since then he has raced through the ranks claiming the WBC Youth Lightweight title and scoring noteworthy wins over Masao Nakamura and Ryan Sermona.
Slippery, sharp and accurate Ito is a pure boxer. He lacks power but more than makes up for it in ability, and in fact in reasons years he has began sitting down on his shots, showing a belief in his own strength and toughness.
Whilst Ito is considered a really promising fighter it's fair to say that the same can also be said about Iwai who is only 26 himself and has, himself proven his ability, despite beginning his career with a struggling 4-2. Iwai, who debuted at just 17, has fought hard through his career and, like Ito, claimed a WBC Youth belt, albeit it “silver” title at Featherweight.
Talented, tough and gutsy Iwai enters this bout on an 8 fight winning streak dating back almost 3 years. Interesting only one fighter really seems to have had his number, Takaomi Abe, with Abe having inflicted 2 of Iwai's 3 defeats as well as his sole draw. That 8 fight winning streak has seen Iwai score little in terms of notable wins, though he did stop Noriyuki Ueno last time out.
Although not as technically capable as Ito it's fair to say that Iwai is a confident and talented fighter and his win over Ueno last time out showed an improvement in power and force.
Coming in to the bout both men will know that a win will boost their career significantly. We however suspect that Ito will have too much skill for his foe in what will be a competitive but clear decision win for the younger man.
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For around a year Hisashi Amagasa held the OPBF Featherweight title, prior to his fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux. During his reign he made 3 defenses of the title, stopping all 3 challengers, Vinvin Rufino, Maxsaisai Sithsaithong and Ryo Takenaka.
Since the Amagasa Vs Rigondeaux fight we've seen one of the men stopped by Amagasa claim the title. That's current champion Vinvin Rufino (37-16-3, 16), a veteran from the Philippines who made his debut more than 13 years ago and, only earlier this year, scored what is arguably his defining victory. That was his win over Mark Gil Melligen to claim the OPBF title back in May.
For Rufino's first defense he'll be facing another of Amagasa's former victims, Ryo Takenaka (12-3-1, 6). Whilst Rufino was comfortably beaten by Amagasa, sitting several rounds down on the scorecards before being finished off in round 8, Takenaka was actually up on the score cards before being stopped with less than 2 minutes of the fight left.
For Rufino, 33, his loss to Amagasa has helped him revive his career with a trio of wins back home in the Philippines. The most notable of those was his win over Melligen. Interestingly the loss to Amagasa was Rugino's only defeat in his last 8 bouts, though he has, notably, had very mixed fortunes on the road with a record of 2-2 in Japan, 5-6-2 in Indonesian and 7-13-2 on the road in total.
In the ring Rufino is a handful. He's in an opponents face through out the fight and although he lacks concussive power he can hit hard enough to drop, or buzz, opponents, as he did with Melligen. Whilst he's not a big hitter he is the sort of guy who always brings a fight and will be looking to out work Takenaka here.
At 30 years old Takenaka is the younger man, but certainly isn't “young” as such and in many ways is looking towards the end of his career if he loses again here. The Misako gym fighter is a very talented boxer, as shown in his bout with Amagasa, but has been stopped in 2 of his 3 defeats and has sometimes struggled with opponents that he should really have breezed past. Notably he has also only fought once since being stopped by Amagasa and was relatively fortunate to pick up a win in that bout.
Although talented Takenaka lacks the power needed to make the most of his skill and at times has shown enough flaws for fighters to adapt to him. Interestingly, coming in to this bout, Takenaka is unbeaten against Filipino fighters, with whom he has a 2-0 record. They have however come against fighters less experienced and less proven that Rufino.
Coming in to this bout we really know that neither can afford a loss. Unfortunately for Rufino we suspect he's gonna come up short on the cards unless he can stop Takenaka. We know scoring in boxing is subjective but it often goes with the home fighter and we suspect that will be the case again here with a debatable victory for the Japanese fighter.
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Akio Shibata looks to continue his reign as unified champion, but needs to get past Yasuyuki Akiyama
The Middleweight division in Japan is, bizarrely in many ways, a really interesting one. The best fighter in the division is the world ranked Ryota Murata but he's on a completely different level to everyone else in the division. Talking about him fighting for the national title is laughable and it's frankly not going to happen. Below Murata is the man he made his debut against, Akio Shibata (25-8-1, 11). Shibata is the Japanese and OPBF champion and although his record doesn't show it he's a very talented boxer who knows how to look after himself in the ring and looks like a handful for many fighters below the world level.
Behind Shibata is a wave of promising young fighters with heavy hands and the dream of proving themselves. Fighters such as Koki Tyson Maebara and Shoma Fukumoto. Sadly for those 3 they are still some way from being ready to fight Shibata.
Later this month we see a veteran try and upset Shibata when the champion battles against the little known Yasuyuki Akiyama (10-4-1, 8) who we have struggled to get any footage of, and in fact we know very little about.
Although we know little about Akiyama we know plenty about Shibata so we'll start with the fighter we know.
Shibata is a 33 year old veteran who has been a professional since 2003. It was during his early years as a professional that his record became muddied and by the end of 2008 his record read 11-5-1 (6). Since then he has gone 14-3 (5) whilst unifying Japan and Oriental titles at both 154lbs and 160lbs. Not only has his form been good but his results have as well and he has score a number of genuinely good wins, such as decisions over Yuki Nonaka, Daisuke Nakagawa-twice, Yoshihisa Tonimura, Makoto Fuchugami and Hikaru Nishida as well as stoppages against Takayuki Hosokawa and Fuchigami.
Whilst Shibata's record doesn't look good to the neutral observer it's hard to argue about his resume on the Japanese domestic scene and with his growing confidence in his ability and power. That confidence will have taken a huge boost after his most recent bout which saw him stopping former world title challenger Makoto Fuchigami.
In the ring Shibata is a nightmare. He has a busy and accurate, moves excellently and fights wonderfully on the outside. He sometimes fails to follow up his jab with a right hand but the way he fights is crafty and allows him to use his size and speed excellently to neutralise opponents whilst getting his own shots off.
The last 2 men to beat Shibata have been tough and aggressive fighters who have simply been too fast and too strong. One of those was Ryota Murata, a tough and powerful Olympic champion who has his sights set on a world title. The other was Japanese based American Charlie Ota, who stopped Shibata twice down at Light Middleweight. Unless you have power and the ability to walk through Shibata's jab as well as the footwork to be able to cut him off he's a really tricky opponent.
So now on to Akiyama who really is a bit of a mystery man. What we know about him is that he's a 35 year old who is set to fight the most significant bout of his career, by far. On paper he's a puncher but in reality his power looks to be artificial with with his first 6 wins all coming by stoppage over weak opposition. In fact many of Akiyama's wins have come against poor opponents with his only wins over note being over Shuhei Ito and Ryota Ityama, both in 2013.
Whilst Akiyama's biggest wins haven't been at a high level there is one result that genuinely stands out coming into this bout. That's a loss to Hikaru Nishida from July 2012. Nishida is a genuinely under-rated fighter however he did lose to Shibata last year and so his win over Akiyama does stand out a fair bit here.
Again we need to say we've not seen Akiyama however we have seen enough of Shibata to know what to expect here. We're going to see Shibata doing what he does so well, boxing on the back foot, keeping a busy jab and making Akiyama chase him. Akiyama's chasing will work against him and see him eating copious jabs, an occasional straight and losing round after round as the bout slips away from him and his title shot essentially comes to nothing.
For those wondering, this bout was originally announced for March 26th, though was rescheduled after Akiyama suffered an injury. That injury has given the division a few months to develop and from what we understand Maebara will be immediately in talks with the winner for a fight in December.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.